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Smart Home Technology Faces Barriers

June 15, 2017 —

By Ernest Worthman —

Executive Editor, Applied Wireless Technology —

All of the elements that the smart home needs are in place – low-cost computing, a plethora of wireless protocols and low-power platforms – so why is the market so stagnant? Add to that the Internet of Everything/Everyone (IoX) and one must wonder why the smart home hasn’t gone mainstream.

Well, as it turns out, the problem is that the smart home is a consumer platform. And there are myriad reasons why the consumer isn’t all that excited about it. And the reasons may not be what you think.

Your first assumption might be that because it is a new technology, people have been slow to take to it. But that isn’t it. The consumer isn’t all that afraid of new technologies anymore, especially gen x-ers and millennials – smart phones, TV’s and other smart devices are a testament to that.

Turns out it is mostly about simplicity. A report from the Open Connectivity Foundation (OCF) indicates that the consumer doesn’t want to have to work at it. They want plug and play and that is true across so many platforms. Whether it is a smart light bulb, thermostat, small or large appliance, or any other control device (garage door openers).

One of the top issues is interoperability. Consumer don’t want to be just connected; they want to be interconnected – and automatically. They want the device to “intelligently” interconnect with the rest of their devices. And stay that way for the near future. Obsolescence is high on the concern list for smart home consumers. It wouldn’t be fun if, all of a sudden, the smart door lock ceased to function because some vendor upgraded their smart router.

Smart Home technology (courtesy Samsung)

At present, there is just too much fragmentation in the market. Walk into any consumer big box store – hardware, electronics, even some department stores and you will find a wide stratification of models, manufacturers and devices. And, at present, none of them work with each other.

Then there is price. This stuff isn’t cheap. A central control unit is usually at least a couple of hundred dollars. And the smart devices, light switches, outlets, locks, etc. can set one back from $30 to $100 or more. For appliances, that can add another zero to the right end of the price. If one is going to retrofit a decent size home, it can run into the thousands of dollars. A steep price for a technology that is all over the map.

I remember the days of X10. That left such a bad taste in my mouth. It NEVER functioned correctly. At least today’s platforms are all wireless so the power line element has been eliminated. But I’m not buying into it until it gets a lot cheaper and I know whatever I plug in gets interfaced immediately and properly.

Frankly, the smart home is going to happen. How fast and how wide is really dependent upon the vendor ecosystem. And they are going to have to get it together. When 5G and the IoX gain real traction, smart home devices better be on the fast track with interoperability, and vendors will have to be working together.